Bennett, separated from family by Covid-19 measures, finds solace in football and SPL resumption

Tampines Rovers’ defender Daniel Bennett at their training session at Tampines Stadium on Oct 14, 2020. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - In two decades of professional football, Daniel Bennett has suffered the pain of a lengthy knee injury and the agony of a Cup final defeat.

But these cannot compare with the anguish of being separated from his family for the past seven months due to the travel restrictions in place to curb the spread of Covid-19.

The 42-year-old Tampines Rovers defender relocated his family to Johor Bahru in 2013, and while they had planned to move back to Singapore at the end of this year, he has not been able to return to his Malaysian home since March.

During this time, he has stayed with his elder brother and then his friends, before moving back to his own apartment after the tenants moved out two months ago.

Bennett, who is Singapore's most capped player (142), told The Straits Times on Thursday (Oct 15): "There are many others who have been through worse, but this has been a very hard period for me personally.

"I thought we would be apart for just weeks, and then it became months. I also lost my dog. She passed away while I was gone, and it's tough for me to talk about it even now."

However, he is thankful for applications like Facetime which he uses every day to communicate with his wife, 13-year-old daughter and nine-year-old son.

Bennett added: "I can't take my kids places, so I play online games with them because that is what they like, and then I talk to them at the same time."

But things are looking up for the veteran - his family will move to Singapore next month, and after a near seven-month suspension due to the coronavirus, the Singapore Premier League is resuming on Saturday as the league-leading Stags host fifth-placed Hougang United at Our Tampines Hub.

He said: "Football does help take my mind off missing my family. I told (Tampines coach) Gavin (Lee) I would train all day if I could but we train only a couple of hours each day.

"The club can't bring my family, but they have been very supportive. It's good to start training again and see the boys again.

"We have a good team and of course, I want to win games, and I want to win the league. We trained a lot and we are ready to play."

Lee shared that club officials have been checking in on players during this extended break and backed Bennett to play a key role in keeping more clean sheets in their title tilt.

Tampines recorded seven in 24 games last season as they finished second behind Brunei DPMM, and have already managed three shutouts in four matches before the hiatus.

He said: "Daniel has conducted himself professionally throughout this difficult period. He appreciates football is a kind of escape and the club is like a second family.

"On the pitch, he is composed on the ball and organises the defence well. Regardless of his age, he would improve the defence of any team he plays for in this league.

"Hougang have the ability to hit teams on the break, so the way we control possession will be important in reducing the opportunities they have with the ball."

Hougang have lost main striker Stipe Plazibat - scorer of five goals in their opening three league games - to Lion City Sailors but Lee insists the Cheetahs still have plenty of experience and firepower in Shawal Anuar, Sahil Suhaimi and Shahfiq Ghani.

He is also not putting much stock in Tampines' record of nine wins and one draw in their last 10 encounters against Hougang.

Hougang coach Clement Teo knows his team have to end the poor run against Tampines if they are to improve on last season's third-place finish.

He said: "We must see this as motivation for us to start a new chapter.

"We came close when we threw away two-goal leads to draw 3-3, and we know we have attacking options to hurt them. We know they are a possession-based team, but we believe we are also capable of mixing things up.

"We also know the threat they possess with Boris Kopitovic, Jordan Webb and Kyoga Nakamura, and we have worked on our defence as a group and in individual scenarios. If we can execute our game plan in the proper manner and with the correct timing, we should be able to get a result."

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